Life goes on for heart recipient

ANSONIA— On March 28, Dan Turner of Ansonia will observe the 20th anniversary of the heart transplant that he underwent in 2002 at the Cleveland Clinic.
Turner was 23 and single at the time of the surgery.

Today, life is back to normal. He is 43, married to high school sweetheart Beth and is the father of a 8-year-old son Kenton.

He has worked for Whirlpool in Greenville for 21 years and the company was good to him before and even now after the transplant.

When Dan was 15, he started having palpitations.

“My heart would beat real fast and I had pain in the chest,” he recalled. “My family doctor thought it was stomach issues.”

Then while working on a dairy farm at the age of 16, a cow had kicked him in the chest. Still in pain the next day, he went to the hospital, and after some x-rays, one doctor noticed an enlarged heart.

The cow that kicked him did not cause his heart problems, Dan explained. It was the enlarged heart symptom.

“I was born with a heart murmur but it went away around the age of 6,” he said.

In 1996, his heart stopped, but he was revived at the hospital. Then, three years later, he collapsed at home and had to return to the hospital.

The ball started rolling when in-patient tests were done at Dayton Heart Hospital.

“From age 17 to 23, there was no hurry because I was not in that bad of shape,” he said. “Dr. Chong gave me medicine and saw me several times throughout the year, and in 2002 he urged me to go to Cleveland Clinic for tests. I went up on a Wednesday and had tests on Thursday and Friday and then they admitted me.”

He was put on a donor list almost immediately. Four days later, two hearts were available.

“While the transplant doctors were in their weekly meeting, they got a call for a heart that was a match, so my transplant was scheduled,” he said.  “The first heart was checked but it was not good enough but they found out about a second heart hours before my surgery. While waiting in ICU, I coded and they brought me back. My heart was functioning at 6 percent.”

He said surgery lasted four hours and, within two hours, he woke up, which he was told is quite unusual.

“I tried to communicate with them, then they had me write stuff down,” he said. “My brother, Ron, was the only one who understood what I was saying.

They told me if he could lift my head, they would take the tubes off and I did it after four hours.”

A week later, they put in a pacemaker, and the next week, they released him from the hospital to rehabilitation for two weeks. Then, he came home.

He was off work for eight months from February to October.

He has no limitations now, but he has to stay away from metal detectors, and he cannot use a welder.

He goes to Cleveland Clinic twice a year for a checkup. Beth’s father, Louie Cline, lives close to Cleveland so the family gets to visit them after check-ups.

LifeBanc of Ohio handles communication for transplant families and they do not reveal last names and locations of the families unless both parties wish to do so. It was Dan’s mother, the late Shirley Turner, who communicated with the donor’s family. Shirley and the donor’s stepmother, Brenda, wrote back and forth often the first year after transplant.

The father of the donor, Rex, wanted to meet Dan and his family since he received their son’s heart. However, Dan wasn’t ready to meet them yet.  They did learn that his donor’s name was Chad and that he was 21 and died as a result of an accident.

In 2011, Dan and a co-worker had been talking about his transplant. She was curious if he had ever met the family or knew about his donor. All Dan knew was the donor’s name was Chad, the day of his accident, his dad’s name was Rex and his stepmother’s name was Brenda. The co-worker did a google search and found an article that the dad had written about donating his son’s organs. From the article, they learned that Chad’s last name was Kennedy and that he was from Zanesville, Ohio.

Dan and Beth were shocked at how small the world is, they have friends in Zanesville.

During a visit to Zanesville, the Turner couple asked their friend Heather of Zanesville to take them to go to the cemetery.

“At his grave is a wrought-iron fishing pole….something Dan loves to do,” Beth said.

This led to more conversations about Dan’s donor. More information about the situation came through Heather, who asked one of her customers if she knew about Chad Kennedy.

The lady she asked, said she grew up with his mother. This got the ball rolling in meeting the family.

Dan, Beth, and Dan’s parents Roy and Shirley got to meet Chad’s mother, Kim, a couple of aunts, a grandmother, a half-brother and cousins at a family gathering in 2012 in Zanesville.

“His family immediately called Dan ‘Dan, the Man’, and patted him on the back as they walked in their home,” said Beth.

Dan has yet to meet Chad’s father, Rex, who lives in Florida. However, the two men talk on Facebook occasionally.

When asked if Dan feels any different with the new heart, his only response was “I’m hot all of the time now, not cold like I used to be.”

Yes, Beth and Dan started dating in high school but broke up in 1994.

“I broke his heart, that’s why he had to get a new one,” Beth said jokingly.

They took a 14-year break and their paths crossed again, thanks to her niece Harlee and his niece Denyse. And on March 3, 2008, the couple went on their first date to the plowman’s dance in Versailles. They were married in July 2009 in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

In addition to working for Whirlpool, Dan also oversees trash pickup during Darke County Fair Week, a project of the Ansonia First Church of God, where his family attends and he is involved with the youth ministry. He has gone with the youth on several mission trips and is ready to go to Texas for a convention.

In his spare time, Dan likes to go fishing on a pontoon he shares with his father, Roy, a former Ansonia police chief, and his brother, Ron.

Dan, who graduated in 1997 from Ansonia High School, earned a degree in architectural engineering, and went to work for Coons and Magoto in Versailles, which went out of business, and then worked for Wenco in New Carlisle but that was too far to drive. So he came to back to Whirlpool to work second shift. Now he is a first-shift employee.

Here is what Chad Kennedy’s father, Rex, wrote about his son and how his organs saved five lives. It’s entitled The Love of a Father: “As I write this it is a beautiful day, June 21, 2002. I’m trying to remember the last time I was happy. I have some good days, but I’m not truly happy. There is something missing.”

“My oldest son, Chad Michael Kennedy, died March 27, 2002, at the young age of 21. That is the saddest day of my whole life. No parent is ever supposed to bury their children. It’s been three months and I think of Chad every day. I don’t understand how this happened. Why me? Why him? He was too young to die. There is a pain in my heart that will never go away. My eyes are filled with tears as I write this, but I know it is important for me to share my story. Maybe it will influence someone to be an organ donor or to donate the organs of their loved ones if they are ever in a situation to make that decision.”

“Chad was a fun-loving boy. He loved his family. He loved to fish and hunt. He was so funny, just fun-loving. Every time I saw Chad he wanted to wrestle with me, no matter where we were. At home, in a store, at the library, anywhere. He would approach me in his husky voice, ‘You want some of me Punk?’ ‘Come on,’ I would say and there we would go wrestling around the living room through the dining room where I would get him in a headlock and win. ‘OK Dad, you win.’ I would release him and I would announce my victory to anyone in the house who would listen. ‘Dad, you know I let you win,’ Chad would say. The next time I would see him it was the same thing, ‘You want some of me Punk?’ ‘Come on.’
March 26, 2002, changed my life forever. At 9:33 p.m., I received a devastating phone call saying there was an accident and to get to the hospital. I was the first person to arrive at the hospital. We learned that Chad had been at his cousin’s house when he received a gunshot wound to the head. Other family members arrived quickly. Chad’s health deteriorated rapidly. Around 5:30 a.m., a nurse  talked to us about organ donation. I’m an organ donor by choice, but I never thought I would need to make that decision for any of my children.”

“In the past year or two, there have been several stories in the paper of children, women, and men needing organs or stories of the families who have donated organs. There are two stories of families that I remember that influenced our decision to donate Chad’s organs. The story of Adam Burkhart, a young man of 17 years, in need of a heart and the story of 7-year-old Kyle Dodson, whose family members donated his organs. Both of these stories are so very sad. Adam did receive a heart and is doing very well. Because these families shared their very personal stories to the community of Zanesville, they influenced our decision to donate Chad’s organs. I am grateful. The doctor’s pronounced Chad legally brain dead at 8:10 a.m. on March 27, 2002. As I said before, it is the saddest day of my life. I was there on March 8, 1981, when Chad was born and on March 27, 2002, when Chad died.”

“We have received a letter from Lifeline of Ohio informing us of the five lives that Chad saved. Donating Chad’s organs is the only thing from this tragedy that makes any sense. We are happy for the recipients of Chad’s organs and plan to meet with them as soon as we can. I still long to hold and kiss my boy, but I know he lives on in them. I want them to know about the boy that saved their lives.”

Not only does Rex Kennedy want people to become organ donors, but so does Dan Turner.

“Especially when you are getting your driver’s licenses,” he said. “And, make sure your family knows your wishes.”

The donor of Dan Turner's new heart, Chad Kennedy, is shown with a little boy. (Courtesy photo)
The heart of Chad Kennedy, pictured above, went to Dan Turner the day after his accidental death. Four of his other organs were also donated to those needing them. (Courtesy photo)
Dan Turner shown with his wife, Beth, and son Kenton, who reside in Ansonia. (Courtesy photo)
Darke County Now Staff - Linda Moody - Staff Writer

Linda Moody / Staff Writer

I am a Darke County native living in the Ansonia area with my son. I have been in journalism 50+ years and enjoy what I do.

Contact Darke County Now Media Correspondent Linda Moody @ lmoody@darkecountynow.com or 937-337-1955.

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